Herefordshire is a county of fantastic beasts and mythical creatures: The Dragon of Mordiford, the ‘enormous panther’ supposedly spotted near Ross on Wye, the Kilpeck Basilik. Also the minotaur, unicorn and werewolves in the Mappa Mundi. With this in mind we ask you to give us a fantastic beast poem.
Herefordshire Poet in Residence Fiona Sampson’s Leviathan imagines not so much a sleeping King Arthur under the English national soil, as something much older and nastier…
We then accepted poems from the public to supplement this and these are displayed below Fiona’s poem.
The black beast who sleeps
under your feet raising
his back sometimes sending
shivers up your spine
and shivering the trees
who stretched himself out here
under a pelt of trees
laying down his muscled
tail in the red earth
his muzzle nudging the hill
side where it is broken
open is he our friend
this sleeping lizard does he
dream about redemption
is his cold brain
warmer than the blood
stilling in his veins
those cold corridors
transomed and dripping that run
through the rock like rumours
of a lost time bright
and brutal with the fear
that could force open living
earth and lay inside the hill
this monstrous body still
alive his breath shaking
the air between the hills
so sometimes you can feel
the pulse of his heart black
as the end of the world.
ALICE LIDDELL, ROSAMUND CLIFFORD, SALVADOR DALI AND A WYVERN by Peter Wyton
A capricious time-warp,
a fusion of phenomena,
a concertina of centuries
propels Alice and Rosamund
back to the towpath at Godstow,
watching a Wyvern.
Alice in seer old age, a whole
wonderland of wrinkles
away from the looking-glass.
Rosamund immature, the face
and figure which captivated
a king, as yet undeveloped.
Hand in hand in the sunshine,
the nunnery ruins behind them,
facing their familiar river,
a dean’s daughter, released
from the ludicrous shackles
of perpetual childhood,
the consummate Clifford,
not yet exposed to the hazards
of hobnobbing with royalty,
and the Wyvern, most obscure
creation of the bestiaries,
enjoying unlooked-for attention,
responds with a rousing display
of aerobatics – chandelles,
inversions, Immelmann rolls.
An old lady, smiling. A child,
clapping her hands in delight.
Something fabulous, in show-off mode,
not attracting the attention
of moorhens, single scullers,
diners on the Trout terrace,
or distant, cud-chewing cattle,
thinking deep collegiate thoughts
all along the flood meadows.
The tableau registered only
by a manic, moustachioed artist,
brushes careering across canvas
in desperate haste to record
another hand-painted dream-scape,
while the best of the light holds.
The hidden beast of Britain by Lunario Wolfpun
For goodness sake
Ensnared by grip
Equally potent in its posture
Verily he talks of olde
Eager to consume
Ready and waiting
Sucking on a bone like
Ingredients may contain remains
Hidden from prying eyes
Inside it’s cave
To emerge eventually
Within by Nigel Higgs
Covers contoured cavern walls, roof;
And Memories abound.
Across them Mammoths and Aurochs graze,
Whilst stealthy stick figures pick their way
Round deep ravine-like cracks,
Creeping over protruding rock knots,
Then, black spears poised, strike at their prey, just as
Torch light chases them to stillness.
Below by Nigel Higgs
Below pavement, grass, foundation,
Deeper through the ages,
The thud of giant feet reverberate;
Shaking the reseeding roots of trees,
Vibrating sound waves through
Rock, soil and detritus, until,
Reaching a surface, it tickles the sand
Lying between a small child’s toes.
Gryphon by Colin Sutherill
Lion-haunched prodigiously with
eagle wings the span of palace yards
dray for Nemesis’ dread retinue
and Attic flight
sun-swept across a thunder sky
some tin princeling dynasty
advantage taker / beggar-maker / strike-breaker
target for our fair play angel
and her steed their
righteous heraldry and
beasted creed Big Gryph
as empyrean squire
that and yes a
zest / the mission’s
spit-roast gravy smell / she a perfect hell
stern beauty / a befitting glee
La Belle Dame Sans Merci
The Duck Race by Nigel Higgs
In a cascade of yellow the
race is begun.
Some, in a confusion of eddies and breeze,
Plunge upstream, until reason and current
Turn their faces to the task in hand and,
Bouncing over the ripples from still-descending
Opponents, they begin their pursuit of
Their more fortunate fellows, who avoided
Chaos and, once buoyant, headed purposefully
Those ‘fortunate fellows’ are, themselves, not
Yet out of the driftwoods. Before them lie
Sunken snags, bubbling rapids, silent pools
Where they could become becalmed,
Branches trailing in the stream on which
They can be trapped, and, not least…
The snapping bills of Swans.
Those who follow the leaders look for the
Current that will give them the edge. But some
Follow the edge not wanted –
Marooned on a mud-bank,
Or tucked into a reed bed.
Others bob and weave through the rapids, leaping
Vainly for the gaps between rocks that were,
In reality, a mirage of twisting
Those that survive find themselves drifting ever
More slowly; an eddy twisting them here,
A zephyr pushing them there, as they move
Into the placid waters that seem to
Have nowhere urgent to go.
With the race moving to its close,
Opportunity to take time to pause
The Meaning of Self.
‘Why am I here?’
Leading to a maze of contemplation;
The Elephants’ Graveyard of reflection,
Flickering across the rippling surface –
Never found; never forgotten.
The Finishing Boom slowly descends,
Gathering together, from the stream,
The successful vestiges of that
Leaving them unsure what the race was for.
But those who escaped the collection,
Hidden undiscovered within a reed bed,
Or amongst floating jetsam,
May discover a happy, muddy life,
As they make their own adventurous way
Lying Back, Amongst the Tall Grasses by Nigel Higgs
Lying back, amongst the tall grasses, eyes,
Lifting from the hills, gaze up to the floating
There, an Orca joyously dips and glides,
Through the sliding currents, the darkening
Dorsal counterbalanced by the sun’s light
Glist’ning across it’s belly. Turning its head,
Sighting its next prey, it side-slips, then leaps
In to the school of mackerel, coasting above.
Further afield, a dragon’s wing appears,
Sliding through the gathering murk.
The head follows the beating wing, gaping
Breath, gathering for the blast of heat.
It slides from the darkness, as if delivered
From a dream, awoken and driven from
A cave below the Black Mountains.
A last gasp of the setting Sun, a beam
Bright and direct, slashes the down-beating
Wing and, assisted by the lifting wind,
Shreds it into gossamer.
As the light fades, a hog and sow appear
From the drifting tatters of the dragon’s wing,
Like children looking for their lost Mother
They follow the wind, as it tuts them into
A forest of darkness, as the Sun,
Defeated by time and the turning Earth,
Is swallowed into the mountainous horizon.
Evening retreats as The Night rides towards it,
Riser from Ashes by John Edwards
the heat tumbles the wall
I spin through air
hot coals ignited the bedclothes
I was up there sniffing the smoke
a spout on a rim
a face grinning down
a cause for rain water
and into ruin
until the river
comes into flood
washes me energizes me
makes me proud again
I walk the rims now
I share with Phoenix
a riser like me
The Lizardless Tail (a beast invented by my son, aged 3) by Alison Nichol-Smith
Of all the beasts in all the world
There’s one that never fails
To baffle herpetologists –
The lizardless tail
How could the thing exist at all?
Biologists all wail
What evolutionary niche requires
A lizardless tail?
How could it breed? How could there be
A female and a male?
How can it be oviporous
This lizardless tail?
And who knows what was once attached
(And here we hit the nail
Upon the head), to whatwe call
A Lizardless tail?
Why lizard? Why not newt, or snake?
Or gecko? Why not snail?
For who’s to say it’s lizardless –
The lizardless tail?
The lionless roar, the bearless paw
The manless fingernail
Where does it end if there exists
A Lizardless tail!
And so, defeated, off it slid
This beast beyond the pale
Pausing to give one final wave –
Of its lizardless tail
Mentor/Minotaur by Jonathan Mayman
I owe you a debt
You pointed me
in the right direction,
set me off
on a journey
that has proved
But your influence
I still refer to you
at every turn.
Although I’ve traveled
a long way,
I’ve yet to escape
from the Labyrinth.
The Lost Lands by Kez Padley
We quest, unrested, into a
We quest for a time gone, passed into the dark, where
dragons still leap and heave their tails across rooftops.
We go, unwilling, to the edge;
to The Lost Lands,
where dragons paw the ground
and crouch, savage.
We freeze, held fast by their stellate
gaze; the stink
of sulphur and petrification bathe us.
Muscles in torment, we stand
One agitation of those
bestial wings, and we are crushed
Gator Aide by Alun Robert
For I’m a sleekit timorous beast
in my pond, all on my own
with only fish to eat that you toss
from a metal bucket, cold and hard.
You no longer take me on your lap
to “coo” and “ah” in dulcet tones
or share with me your lunchtime scraps
off the table of your dining room.
Yet I am cuddly, yet I’m a softy
no longer in receipt of love and affection:
you don’t pat my back to hear me murmur
or tickle my chin for my tail to wag.
Then on vacations, you won’t let me swim
with nervous bathers for they shriek.
But I only tease them in the pool
when I flash my teeth or sort of growl.
And since I’ve grown we don’t do walks
down to your local for a swift half (or more)
or into the mall amongst wretched folk
who don’t see ’gators as adorable pets.
Since your partner dictated, “It’s me or it!”
my ego was hurt – nay devastated.
For I have feelings, I suffer pain
with rejection hurtful to my delicate soul.
So when you advertised me on eBay as,
“One careful owner, free to a good home.”
I sort of hoped that I’d go to a zoo
where I could play with those of my ilk.
But on the delivery label I can read
I’m off to an abattoir near Milton Keynes
who will slice me up for a gastro diner
to become a sleekit tender feast.
Milleniolus: The beast of the city centre. By Aaron Colquhoun
See him wrap his nibbled claws around a generation,
Hands clamped around become a room of vice and of tempatation,
A beast born of an attitude of self indulgent vice,
Grows stronger still with every sip of vodka with no ice,
Entices with his charming grin,
Come one come all embrace the sin!
Milleniolus, a deity to fill in for the faithless,
Vapid flock of stubborn youth, proud & blindly atheist,
Their mindlessness and loss of God has left a burning hole,
But with free shots and one night stands who really needs a soul?
A beast born for the modern day,
To lead the fragile young astray.
the mers by Robin Kay
we walk in two worlds
half sea thing strange
half buried into land’s bones
bending into forms unknown
and strange to the eye
we walk in the sea
swim down streets
even under the hottest sun
our hair gleams like oil
our teeth bite
say that you hate our song
we know you love the singing
you follow us into the waves
& blame us as your lungs
choke on salt
cold things too full of warmth
we say goodbye to what we love
& go down the the docks
jumping into water
breathing at last
In the Den by Michael Mirolla
I’m met by a line
of bitter dragons
fire sagging in the belly
tired elongated faces
littered with questions
what do they want to ask
what do they need to know
they turn from side to side
in the cramped peculiar space
crowns butting the dour ceiling
flanks scraping the kinetic walls
as if unused to their own home
centipede legs barely able
to carry that stratospheric bulk
what do they need to ask
what do they want to know
more and more they fill the room
like some sort of shrill metaphor
until a bluefin bus with insect
antennae and wavering gills
pulls up to take them all away
only then in this suddenly empty place
do I see the scribbles on the floor
where the sour dragons shuffled
what do we want to ask
what do we need to know
“what is sky”
Quartet by Graham Burchell
A gathering of four laptops in the quiet
forty fingers, each instrumentalist
playing different keys, streams of flat music,
the notes punched as keyboard symbols
separated by space bars.
Give each symbol a pitch I say, to hell
with the quiet coach, the four faces are focused
ignoring the potential audience anyway,
ignoring the passing world beyond, rampant
with dip and hill, grazing beasts, pylons, hedges,
trees overpowered with blossom.
Pretend you are playing ‘Spring’ by Vivaldi, yes you
with the muscles of your face shifting
from serious to grin. Let your digits dance.
While the performer next to me rests,
challenged, finger tapping lip.
Or let’s hear them all at once, hammering out
their private lives into an unmanuscripted
dissonance, each competing against the other.
I’ll give you quiet coach. Schönberg, Stockhausen,
I hear you shifting in your graves.
Cassowaries on the Cape Tribulation Road by Graham Burchell
hen leading its drab chick to school
stay close talk to no-one we’ll short cut
but careful down this slick grey track
with its growling beasts
that’s how it looks
and as long as mother is there
stepping her kick-boxer feet
confident and bosomy
in her black shagpile coat
with summer hat pressed tight
on her blue head and neck
all will be well
she is the teacher and the school
all will be well
as long as she keeps just in front
and the cover and scents of rainforest
are there to the left to run in to
hiding in the undergrowth
is a lesson already learned.
The Watcher Over Cheltenham by Matt Hollands
There is a tree
above the quarry on
above the town,
that is no tree.
It has leaves that
look like leaves,
and branches that
look like branches,
and roots that
look like roots,
but they’re not.
Not at all.
If a person were
to climb this tree
and reach higher
than the town,
At the point they
could climb no higher
and the sky became more
present than the land
they would find
One single, solitary flower.
And in that flower
A single eye.
And in that eye a gaze
and in that gaze a thought.
And that thought would
leap into the mind
of that person
clinging to that branch
(that is no branch)
in that tree
(that is no tree).
And they would climb
down from that tree
(that is no tree),
and down through
(that is a quarry no more),
and down into the town.
And they would bring
with them wild tales and
tell them in pubs and
bars with shining eyes.
And those that live their
lives in the valley and
heard those tales would
be filled with a longing.
A longing for the
wide open sky.
Last Thoughts of the Unicorn by Adam Horovitz
Blood in the forest, its
scent a hammer
beat under the drum of rain. Blood.
In the forest, high voices.
Almost-children carrying blood
loose under their skins as they pulse
through artery tunnels of trees.
The trees, which speak soporific
languages of blood, guide them inward.
Down tight-wound labyrinths
to the taut centre.
Blood in the forest scent. The drum
a hammer in the beaten rain. Blood.
She collapses by a tree. I watch
as she moves, now like one grown
to the full capacity of blood.
They come with rituals
to bind her laughter to the oak.
The forest stills to a hiss.
A scrape of metal. The sun
cutting godfaces in the leaves.
The blood drum. A forest hammer.
Rain to the beat of scent. Blood.
An itch in the shadows, blood rising
in the dark at my approach.
She trembles. Specks tears. Guides
my horn to her lap. Ecstatic. Slow.
Blood in the forest. The hammer
slowed to a synthesis of blood.
Song of metal in the undergrowth.
Her eyes melt. Blood…
Mrs. by Polly Johnson
Sides heaving like a sideboard,
brown and salty as a chip wrapper
the beast slouches by the oven door
and we go hungry.
Breathing like an old boiler,
breath dark and fumy as a old drunk
it hefts itself up the stairs, runner by runner
and we wait in fear.
Invisible in the blackness,
highlighted in sick yellow by the rent curtain
the beast heaves itself onto the duvet
and we get no sleep.
In the morning, its nails like shells,
fur greasy as an oil spill,
the beast opens its mouth and howls
and we know no peace.
How we long for a dragon,
a three-headed calf;
Instead we run endlessly
through our own maze –
made of brown ale and cider,
of ‘not enough for the leccy’
but always enough for skunk.
We kids, shrunk in our armour,
watch the beast through rods of rain,
afraid to go in and face it.
Mrs. Medusa’s Mayhem by Jenny Hope
He shuts his eyes during sex. So do I.
Why should he have all the fun?
He liked a conversation, once; valued the muscle of a good brain,
but had trouble keeping pace
and was always careful not to look me in the eye;
sharp as lakes and as yellow. He knew the rules.
But one day the Red-Tops outed me as
“The Woman Who Could Turn a Man to Stone,”
too many “Don’t Think Much of Yours,” and he can’t go beyond skin-deep;
to my body of bone and heart.
With killer comments on killer eels and driving Dodge Vipers;
making my snakes stand on end.
We have three girls; with my eyes and his sparse temper.
He’s given to hissy-fits, says our kids slink wild, leave their cast-off skin in the bath.
He doesn’t like their slither-hipped swagger in tight-arsed jeans
and says they follow me. Perhaps as well, he couldn’t pick a pot to hiss in.
He thinks he’s clever, makes a joke about how he’s the only married bloke
without a single mirror in the house.
But at night when I’m unshedding, I catch him sneaking a look;
perhaps I should tell him it’s rude to stare?
after Rapture by Jenny Hope
After Rapture (Kiki Smith)
The first growl I hear is mine.
A low hum, but its vibration deafens me
and seeps out from my gut
while my stomach ripens, swells, splits.
You, my wide-bellied daughter
make good your escape – don’t look back.
Your stone daughters are yet to make you bleed.
I, now dead on my back
find my claws slip from the sky;
the bald white sky that holds no secrets.
Riddle by Jenny Hope
I lick my face from the plate of the moon,
come clean to reflect on the fleece-white glow.
I’ve not time for sleep, much to do. Livestock
ought a hex or two; perhaps a visit.
Sailors curse me; at sea I cause a storm,
while on land if I hold straight, scare-wits
shiver. I speak with stark, ungodly cry,
run long bones ragged, cut through the parish.
Another trick? I make chaste brides turn from church;
let stretched shadows hound me from my form.
For thirst I’ll suck your cattle, bone and dry;
but to sup my flesh may snare both sorrow
and despair. Life furrows the old straight track
as I shift, from buck to doe, buck and back.
Bared by Jenny Hope
You know how this happens. First the earth-skin
splits, opens and with dark woods sleeping, a bear
stirs, stretches, shits, then saunters to open ground,
a clearing with trees stretched back, and, once there
washes. Each stroke measured against the crush of his fur.
The consideration of his tongue stills her. He licks. Slow
movements track the rhythm of his blood. Morning; and low
light breaks against bark, refracts, and leaves its mark on skin.
The bear continues his preparation, his grooming of fur.
His claws part his pelage; reveal the thin seam of bare
flesh, hint at his nakedness. She waits, watches him there
as he grooms himself in readiness, sprawled on the ground.
She wants his flesh pressed against her, his soft round
form, his folds of skin from hibernation, his lazy slow
manner. She breathes against him, flesh-to-flesh, their
selves merge, absorb the other, skin seeps into skin
becomes one. They slip inside the other, and bare
breaths twist, intermingle, and escape up though fir
trees. Does he distract her from herself? His fur
is thick with earth as he delivers his scent to the ground.
He stretches, flicks a paw. He’s dreamt her naked. Her bare
flesh, through the long bones of winter, through low
light and trees. He runs a claw along her form, opens skin,
exposes those secrets hidden from eyes and feeds them. Their
bloods spill, pool, become new blood. The earth stains. They’re
wounded. They separate. This bear scares her. He shakes off fur
reveals himself. He ruts against the earth, casts off his skin.
Retreats. The world stills. He leaves his pelt on the ground.
She pauses. Takes stock. Relaxes. Her breathing is slow.
Deliberate. Her fear’s removed. She’s exposed. Bare.
Her flesh is open to the sky. Meanwhile the bear
has gone. The woods have no memory of him being there.
The trees breathe. Their sap returns. Spring begins her slow
climb. Naked trees are again re-clothed among the firs.
The forest evergreens held the cold at bay. The ground
stirs with the kiss of Spring. She nourishes her new skin.
Yet beneath her glow, is there a memory of a bear
and the fitting of a new skin? Her skin was always there
but smothered with fur, now discarded, left to the ground.
According to Maud by Lesley Ingram
The tump is hard. Not even
here, in this kink in the track. It remembers,
scribes its own epitaph as scorched earth,
a memorial to all the wild things killed
for their nature, their own sake.
To you, my pet.
It was no natural fight.
He was no honest knight, just a coward,
crouching in a barrel, breathing
his own sweat, his own stink,
watching you drink at the Lugg’s edge.
Then stabbing and stabbing and…
Your wail slackened my skin. I heard you
thrashing to our hidden low, felt the jolt
to the earth as you fell. The air was thick,
shocked. I aged as I ran here, every step
a seven-year, a sickening, bending of bones.
But you saw me
as you trembled through your last gasps,
as your wings dropped like four open fans.
The coward knelt by your diamond eye, sword
raised. What sweetness in your final breath,
what poison! Oh my magnificent dragon!
I come here alone now, and often, to remember
how you’d lay your head on my lap,
lick milk from my fingers, play with me in the
pear trees, twisting their trunks
with such a-flying, such a-swirling
The Shield of Grimesditch of Whitley (1688) by Lesley Ingram
stories arise from a blazoning
of wishful thinking
sable, a man
completely armed argent,
assaulted by a griffin,
all bendwise of the third
Punctuation for a wet afternoon: the comma by David Winbow
A fantastical beast, the Comma,
though some people say its a fish
which just causes confusion;
Its only slightly fish-ish.
It first came into the county
around about eighteen-oh-three,
concealed in a shipment of ab’s
(that’s the fruit of the baobab tree)
It hangs upside down, like a bat does
just before what you say,
then stands on its head after what you just said
Hoping that you’ll go away
Because it gets very possessive,
coming between her and her’s
in a manner which seems quite obsessive,
disregarding the fault which occurs
because it only has half a colon,
so it doesn’t digest the law
of what goes where and why,
and what punctuation is for.
It sometimes elopes with enjambment,
deserting the end of the line,
tricking the text right round
to the next
one , but, often, that works out just fine.
It caused quit a stir at the Oscar’s
by making a very short speech
on receiving the Apos Trophy,
just remarking that “sand’s a beach”
It saves its worst plural’s for mural’s
and other things written on walls;
sometimes it sings like an angel,
but most of the time its just rubbish, really.
The Old Red Lion by John Edwards
Stillness harnesses the
night. A tail twitches,
stiff back muscles flex and phlegm flows
from a throat sorely in need of a roar.
A sliver of moon flicks away a cloud,
curls into itself and looks down
onto pale light and shadow when
rusty hinges squeak as the tail
of the image leaps out from the
sign’s flatness into a life form and
down onto cold tarmac. Jaws snap open
and a roar hits the mark. Three rows of teeth
glisten helped by the drool in his mouth.
The little fella hears, alert and knowing
pulls a pillow to his chest for comfort when
he sees the tail snake up to allow him
to step outside to ride on his flight.
The night cossets him in thought
and the wings beat a rhythm
past Madley, Cradley, and Bredwardine
as Peterstow’s church records the hour
to insert a piece into his memory.
He knows it had to end when light
cracks the dawn; then the only way
was home to dream again.
Who could ever perceive?
Dragon by Sue Johnson
I am breathing
until I find my true self
I am the dragon
that rides the night sky
of my imagination
my golden eyes miss nothing
fiery breath dissolves all negativity
the edges of the world are turned to ash
people notice me
I am part of the creative web that links
the mirrored surface of the lake
and the silence of the dark wilderness
Where the Wild Cat Cries by Lesley Ingram
The walling up
of a cat
black as magic
wise as sin
will not bring
to your new home.
All the bad air
will still stir
there, your guilt
will still hang
round your neck
like the noose
on your friend
The cat will always yowl
round these hills
from shadow to shadow
whip up the scent
of sweet, wild broom
claw at your shoulder
spit in your face
wild as wild as
the walling up of a cat
will hardly end matters.
The Wyvern of Mordiford by Simon Cockle
Picture a girl as she
her blackberry bag on a morning’s stroll
in the night deep woods. The only sounds
are a leaf’s fall and the shadows reaching.
At the foot of a tree she finds strange treasure;
an infant serpent, abandoned and breathful.
She cups it, warms it and pockets the creature.
Hidden from mother and father, she fetches it
meat scraps and scraping bone,
milk sops and mint and sings it to sleep
in the blackberry bag under her bed.
Time passes. The creature, now brawny
and fitfully wild, cannot be contained
so they leave in the night and creep to the ridge
that looks down on the woods. ‘I’ll return’, she says,
and she does, next day, with a whole leg of mutton.
For the first time she sees him, full grown
and steel-limbed, with the head of a dragon,
the tuberous tongue taking flight from the jaws,
and the skin wings a canopy, straining the sun.
Turning her back, she flees from the scene
and returns to the arms of her fretful mother.
Weeks pass, rain falls. The talk in the village
is of livestock missing and a path to the woods
now spoiled with blood. A few brave farmers
ride up to the ridge; they return in silence,
horseless. Now a hero is sought
to dispatch the dragon, with nothing to lose
and no life left to live. A desperate criminal
spared from the noose is chosen and armed.
Viper-wine drunk, he follows the path
to the lair of the beast. The serpent is sleeping;
he raises his sword, takes aim at the neck.
From the shadows beyond a woman emerges
and throws him a bag – ‘Leave him be!’ she begs.
The creature is stirring. She pleads in the moonlight;
he turns and runs home with the bag at his side.
‘Did you kill it?’ they demand; in the bag is a tongue.
from some dread brute or so it would seem.
‘So the deed is done!’ and the criminal released.
The killings cease and the blood fades away.
The girl is still walking with her blackberry bag
through the silent woods. Look up, when the sun
seems to fade and falter for a moment or two;
a cloud may have passed or what passes for cloud.
Kelpie by Rebecca Gethin
Out of the rain a colt appeared on the shore –
he’d trotted through the bog on cupped hooves
that let him skim across suck and squelch.
In the dusk of the sea his eyes shone.
The inside of his nostrils flared shell-pink –
he sniffed the air around me, stepped closer.
Sensitive as raw mussel he whiffled my hand.
When I stretched up to stroke his neck
my fingertips felt salt grains in the fur.
Wheeling above as if in readiness
gulls crackled like bladder wrack,
He turned and walked to the water’s edge.
He seemed to beckon, shaking out
his weed-locked mane. Waves ran over the herring
flash of his hooves. He bent low to snuffle his mouth
through the water, took a long draught.
When droplets scattered from his quiet lips
I knew his time had come.
Cathedral by Rebecca Gethin
I didn’t hear an owl calling – a predator
with the voice of a victim
or of someone lost.
full of digested tiny bones, crushed skulls
and hairs. They weren’t roosting
in the unlit corners of ledges
the length of
the vaulted roof nor were they
keeping watch over the tombs
with effigies of knights and bishops
turned to stone.
I never heard feathers ruffling
nor heard a claw on the wood
in the choir stalls,
nor saw gleams
of eyes penetrating the dark
of the misericords. I looked
under all of the seats.
There it was
as if had waited for this, staring at me,
already stretching up to take off,
wings spread, feet lifting –
bubo in oak
night raven –
an owl angel.
Misericord by Rebecca Gethin
On his feet through Matins, Lauds, Prime,
Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline
swollen finger joints
no longer flush, a space between
the palms secretes a doubt.
Aching back and legs
so in hymns and psalms
he props himself against the tilted seat,
fumbling for the rough wings
of the creature
hidden beneath the seat.
His fingers count the flight feathers rejoice at the reptilian skin
of tail, legs
and bird-like feet; bless
the cup of deer-like ears, heavy brow
and pointed nose.
the unafraid companion, a snail,
with raised tentacle – eye to eye –
a moment of
between a wyvern and a mollusc
like an act of mercy
he hopes that
(Notes: from a misericord in a choir stall in Hereford Cathedral. A wyvern is a voracious two leggeddragon)
Riders of the film by Bob Woodroofe
Molecular force holds the meniscus,
pulls it into the liquid body, as you
skate over the tensioned skin.
Pads of hair dent the surface,
repel and push the fluid down,
never sink in, never get wet.
Four indentations cast shadows
that float over the sunlit bottom
as you scull over the film.
Sense the vibrations, ripples
that spread from prey that drowns,
stride over to suck it dry.
Fly to winter shelter,
in spring return,
walk once more on water.
Lucky or not by Bob Woodroofe
Fed well on trefoil and vetch
the poison molecules stored
winter lost amongst the grass
then climb their thin ropes
spin silk to parchment
swell the narrowness of stems
the shucked black skin
crumbles between fingers
ash spread on the wind
in the light of day not night
whirring warning into flight
crowd and jostle to feed
on blue scabious purple knapweed
magenta spots on deepest black
red for danger six for luck
Wodewove by Bob Woodroofe
quiet across the woodland glade
comes the woodman with his blade
soon to ring through tree and wood
bleed away the sap like blood
like my crop I grow straight and true
my strength of character runs right through
I too am just as green as they
with leaves about my faces
I love to work and lie and dream
in amongst their shady places
there I sing my own sweet song
and whistle tunes upon the air
they hear me safe within their homes
and from deep inside their lair
they never see me yet they know
who I am and what I stand for
I come from the deepest wildwood
still uphold its ancient law
my mother wouldn’t know me
because I am not of her alone
I belong in hedge and wood
rise through earth and stone
shrouded in green monk’s habit
guardian spirits hasten to the task
shadows behind the trunk
hidden by the mask
come let us play the game
you know who I am
tell me what’s my name
forever upon the woodland scene
I am the man that they call Green
No Room For Fairies by A Moore
There are no fairies at the bottom of our garden.
Our children have more modern imaginations.
Each night before they go to bed they stable:
the Lotto unicorn
the chortling Vauxhall griffin
a basilisk (which they do carefully, with mirrors)
two Fimbles which I picked up in a charity shop
the Soup Dragon and her friends, the Clangers.
They have a fireproof stall in the shed for the dragon.
(I forget where she came from now –
they’re as common as superheroes.)
She’s laid an egg, which I am forbidden
to remove from the oven.
(I sneak it out under a tea towel
when I want to bake potatoes.)
At night the children share their beds with more
tangible beasts – the dogs and cats;
jars of unfortunate caterpillars broil on the window sill;
beetles scrabble forlornly in matchboxes. I rescue them
at lights-out and put them back in the garden.
But every night a fresh collection yearns for its freedom.
Downstairs, plush orang utans
and other endangered primates
dangle from various light fittings, hangovers
from a magical trip to Borneo last year.
Since our last trip to Longleat, our peachicks
strut round the garden at dusk, screaming
‘help’ at the top of their lungs in imitation
of their adopted parents.
I think we’re raising a couple of Attenboroughs.
Our neighbours (who don’t have that kind of
imagination) complain to the Council.
Alternative Day by Sue Johnson
I leave the nagging clamour
metallic clash of filing cabinets
discussions about last night’s encounter
and why Sally woke to find
a cold fried egg in her bed.
I follow my dream pathway
watch a beach materialise
tranquil in evening light.
Salt spray blows on the soft breeze.
Seagulls the colour of candyfloss
cry a welcome.
Anemones dance quadrilles
in rock pools
with rainbow crabs.
On the horizon the sun dives
into a pool of crimson and gold.
I ride a white unicorn back to shore
touch his spiral horn and make a wish
The shrill sound of a telephone
nearly pulls me back to a
grey office in a drab grey town.
I close my ears to the voices
asking what’s the matter with me.
This time I won’t come back.
I caress my mermaid’s tail
and plunge into indigo water.
How to Create a Chinese Dragon by Angela Topping
Start with the body of a serpent,
weld on the horns of a stag –
a fitting crown for an emperor.
Set in the dark jewels of rabbits’ eyes
and manicure the dragon’s nails
so it has the claws of a tiger.
Decorate all over with the silvery scales
of a carp, a barbel and a pike.
With firm needlework, fasten on
the leathery ears of the bull.
Breathe life into your creation
when full of wisdom and passion.
The marvellous tail twitches and shudders
as life travels down its length.
You have made a creature
who can row on land, fly on sea
and swim through air.
It is the one, the many, the immortal.
Mrs by Belinda Rimmer
Weaver of Cobwebby Corners.
At ten years old, I came face-to-face
with the Penetrator of Dreams,
the Weaver of Cobwebby Corners.
He’s been with me ever since.
No rest. He stomps endlessly.
Weeps and whimpers
about the house –
noisy as wings flapped against a wall.
Sometimes, I’ll carry him on my back.
He’ll clutch my neck,
kick my sides to go faster.
I’ll take him to places,
try and leave him behind.
The forest is best,
here shadow claims him,
flies swarm hot on his tail,
trees swallow him up.
All the hours he’s away,
I think I don’t want him back,
until every-little-thing becomes too bright –
I summon him then to temper the brilliance.
Moss Ablaze by Miguel Guerreiro Lourenço
I ran, sword in hand ready to strike it
From the treeline, fled all, the creatures of
fabled dacian black woods. Their eyes consumed by
dread, ignored my plated breast. A deer whimpered,
the wivern’s stench, it lingered still, my cloth
had not be washed—neither had my mind
been rid of the beast. Venturing forth I
began to sense it, as I felt its eyes
pierce the back of my skull. I slashed sideways,
hoping to find it. It growled, drooling
over bones and tethers, I had walked into its
lair. Its breath made my eyes water. The wivern
mistook my disgust for fear and charged.
Birds hastily flew away from our roars and grunts.
My steel met its scales, green, yellow and red
like moss ablaze during Autumn’s peak.
The wivern’s wings had been severed before
but where my brothers failed, I would take
the beast’s head with me. It could not flee, nor
did it sure want to. We faced each other
for a long hardy hour, and a forest once
sweet, turned ugly and sour. When it guttered
its last protest, I wept no tears for the
wivern turned pest. Beast slayer I’ll be called.
Celebrated and risen to fame will I be,
Behold the beast’s head, in the halls to see.
Fantastic Beast by Zoe Austin
My beast is fantastic.
Let me tell you: he does the shopping for me twice a week
(I understand they’re almost used to him prowling round the aisles at Tesco these days);
When I’m sad, he always knows it, and sings me something which I find strange and somehow
But which I appreciate nonetheless. He’s doing his best.
My beast has large claws, a big bulgy belly, hair everywhere. At least I’ve taught him
To wear those pants when in public now.
(It’s not that I mind him being au naturel around the house
But folk round here would not approve).
Back home, my beast was unhappy. Discovered and hounded from the village he’d always lived in,
He stowed away and made it here to rum old Blighty.
Don’t know why he chose this place. We’re not very good with strangers.
Well, some of us aren’t.
I suppose it was fortunate that it was in my shed that he chose to make his nest
(I don’t scare easily and, to be honest, he’d actually tidied the place up a bit,
which was nice).
We’ve forged a friendship of such, my fantastic beast and I. He seems to like the ham sandwiches
which I leave out for him of an evening
And he hardly ever brings his prey home these days.
In return for letting him stay, he helps me where he can and he is quite cheerful company.
I can’t complain.
There he is now, wanting his cup of tea I suppose.
I’ll not begrudge my beast his succour.
After all, he fixed my stop-cock last Thursday.
Hunting a Poem For the Big Feast by Luisetta Mudie
The hunter is caught in the ash by the stream.
His jewels drip from its curved fingers. Swords
won’t help him here. His starry belt is trapped where
Odin swung, a bearded eagle soaked in mead.
The plough dips drunkenly backwards, driving at
the Pole. Cassiopeia mimes indifference,
V-¬signs, whatever! while the Seven Sisters,
huddling in too-¬short dresses, ignore his plight.
The twilight trots across the field, flashing out
the constellation Fox. Orion reaches,
straining for the tail-¬tip star. On the estate,
teenagers sing, high on phones and Sky TV.
Fox finds a hole at the hemmed edge of space-¬time,
flitting through. In the house behind the hawthorn,
the waters rise, staining the poet’s notebook,
spilling the river’s unrepeatable names.
Salamander by Susan Castillo Street
In the white heat
of the blaze the salamander writhes.
Flames lick around its scales,
embrace its glittering green eyes.
Its contortions lead us to believe
that it is dead, that its dance
in this infernal core has melted it
to glowing cinders, scrolls of ash.
But no. From molten heart
the salamander comes out strong and entire.
Popes give gold for capes of silver salamander skin
to ward off devils, shield them from the fire.
Basilisk by Susan Castillo Street
It ripples toward us, head held high.
On its brow a bishop’s mitre,
white deadly diadem. Its fiery breath
leaves ashes in its wake. Inexorable,
it undulates. Its stare splits stones.
It does not countenance dissent,
feels it contains the only Truth. Its gaze will petrify
all those who dare to disagree,
turn them to hard unfeeling bone
corseted tight in certainties.
MINOTAUR: MAN OR MYTH? by Tina Cole
In the myth you are easily recognised,
half man, half bull, prowling the labyrinth,
turning at right angles to yourself
through a fretwork of shadows. A Caliban
creature with the musk of darkness
wrapped in your pelt, stalking virgins
whom fate has chosen. And soon
the snarling stench of you pressed
against firm white breasts.
In the jittery flickering movie
a black, ragged creature reflects me back.
Hairs prickle my neck. I turn on lights
to keep shadows on best behavior.
As the long tongue of the lock licks
into place a slick of panic cuts
my throat. I know him at once,
he has my scent, seeks deep cuts;
flesh wounds never enough.
In the garden frost has turned
the leaves to knives; the moons horns
unmasked by cloud. Sated, he crosses
the poisonous breath of traffic and veers
down into the Underground tunnels.
Bull by David Winbow
The bull-dancer sketches the Minotaur,
the arc through the air confirms it.
The touch of fingers on horn leaves it drawn for us,
far from the scarlet bellow,
bursting lungs, red froth.
Vast slabs of darkness covered the labyrinth
even then, enclosing the terror
to something more than bovine,
Only courage paints it into beauty.
Unicorn by Patricia Green
Unicorn, small but fierce.
Fantastic horse that never was.
Did the designer of Mappa Mundi see you,
Hear of you, or simply long for you?
You would lay your head at peace in the lap of a virgin.
You lay your presence at peace in the cathedral.
Being never created, except in our head space
Lie at pasture beneath the sign of the Uncreated Son.
When God rolls up this map we walk upon
And lays all things at his Son’s feet
Will you appear, with ox and ass and bison
At Jerusalem, the centre of the world?
Canis Familiaris by Maggie Mackay
I hear yese. What daes she
ken aboot dugs?
I mind braw like.
Ma great-grandfaither wirked
sheepdugs at Shennas.
Ma grandfaither wis reared
Paw wis reared
wi them an aw, by yon Govan shipyards.
I ken dugs, collies an terriers,
an tramps tae.
I kent Glen.
I kent his gumption.
The siller-blae pirate squint,
edge o a sneer as
he placet baith paws fou square
on wir carpet for tae own us,
minding yon gate frae the curve o mae arms,
lead-mobbit on the foremaist chord o ‘Z cars’,
hirdit golf balls on the Links putting green,
refusnik, my braither’s fae. Groul, yowl,
wheenge in the nicht.
Hip twisted on the front stap
gin we locked him oot. Eejits.
I kent he wis a steerie,
Jack-in- the-Box whalpie in yon tea kist,
wi the slanted rhythm o his gait,
lugs brent sails,
the burn o iris on yon squirrel,
moist leather release o cold tap on skin.
ma Dad minds doukits through mud-slicked dubs,
an hurlies through forest mulch an canal ice an
ower broken flagstones an sand dunes,
the rock an roll o his back in benties
after a sea salt sweem
or velcroed tae ma belly by a bee sting gliff.
He wis ma fiere.
His teeth ‘tae muckle for size of moo’,
girn for yon Newcastle car thief,
playbow tae the bully or the feartie,
growl o a Baskervilles choir,
open arms for Mum, for meat
his lunge at a jogger tae close tae me
neb on glass paws ruler-tight, waiting for the late car,
the failed ascent o Paw’s lap but the heave o the hail sofa,
ribcage tight across ma legs on a bad day or
proffered paw as an apology for a forgotten ill or
his flirt with a flichtin o spinners o a deuk.
We baith kent moose, tods, cats, bicycles. He chased them aw,
ayont the fence, in dreams – intae yon saftness o naithing.
Autolycus in Avon by Peter Wyton
When the dragon of Bristol is awake, I skulk
amongst the outmost suburbs, or steal away
to peep from surrounding vantage points.
I am patient. I am obliged to be. The man-eater
seldom succumbs to slumber, but sometimes,
particularly on somnolent summer evenings,
the beast begins to be drowsy, a barbed tail
twitches and falls still, corrugated eyelids droop,
the mottled chin rests on its pillow of claws.
Nostrils like neon-lit underpass entrances
start to channel the megawatt breaths which,
in wideawake mode, whistle through slavering jaws.
The first in a chain of gaseous envelopes
commences to rise above the wine-warm city,
pendulous blobs, each with an underslung basket.
Some fools believe these to be hot air balloons,
but I know better. They are dragon dreams,
each one a memory of a gourmet banquet
of succulent citizen, char-grilled and consumed
on the urban premises. I watch them stud the sky
like droplets on a duchesses’ necklace, counting
until they achieve double figures, so I can be sure
the old worm has settled into deepest slumber.
Only then do I dare to move, swag-bag in hand,
towards the city centre, pouncing on millionaires
in the mud-dock, leaving them with concussion
of the wallet. They’re richer than they tell the tax man,
these Bristolians. The clubbers are made of money,
students drip ornamentation from ear to navel.
Even the Big Issue salesmen go from pitch to pitch
in stretched limos and the performance poets
have a Stock Exchange for haiku. No more time
to talk, as I totter up Totterdown, booty-laden,
before the sleeping firedrake stirs, rears up
and takes an inventory of its possessions.
The Shape Shifter of Herefordshire by Angela Readman
It’s here again, part woman/
part hare, grinding lives off
her cleft. Hunkered, so much light
in her jaws a man must look away
or be blinded by the possibilities
of how much a woman can change.
The dress she slipped out of
lays on the frost, an allure of lace
the lads she danced with
flatten out by the barn on lonely days.
They wait for the girl their breath
boned one winter night outside
her gate. They iron her abandoned skirts and let broderie anglais decide whether it is worth being
human after all. Truth is, even now, they all hear
that girl everywhere, laughing via the conduit of sparrows, cracking
open an afternoon with the crows.
She was a bonny lass, they remember
that. They recall the feel of her
slipping out of their hands, hair turning into a sunrise, her kiss became whiskers, pelvis rutting
against theirs leaping into a hangnail night.
The boys still place clothes and jewels
onto dusty fields to lure the shifter
into a shape their palms understand. Some nights it seems every rat,
owl, or stoat that crosses their path
is watching a man learning love
is like grief. It involves looking
out into the yard, a search for eyes
in the dark, trying to decipher
each rustle in the trees.
how strangely sits the Minotuar by Gerald Kells
how strangely sits the Minotaur
trapped inside the revolving door
horn injected in the floor
never to drink whiskey anymore
how strangely sits the Minotaur
we wait his grace but can’t be sure
Dreamer by Chris Sparks
In a long forgotten tunnel
Near a long abandoned garden
Through a long left open gate
At the end
Behind long established Ivies
Home of long-legged black spiders
Sleeps a long neglected creature-
My old friend
In his long deep hibernation
He had long dreams that he told me
Were a long way in the future
But now I claim
That a long time isn’t long
And as his long sleep rumbles on
It’s a long shot I will see my
The Dark Ones by Gabriel Griffin
The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and is about
to come out of the abyss…(Apocalypse, 17 – 8)
There are those who drag
darkness with them, who hunt
in the underworld, who roam
the dark side of the moon.
They are the ones who know
what you won’t admit, who prowl
on your lies, who guess what
you really want, who ravage
your secret shame. They are
the creatures of the night, the fleet
and silent ones, the ones
who razor the shrouds of your sleep
with honed bones, who stalk
your panting dreams, who thread
an invisible howl through
the quivering air. They are the ones
you think you almost saw, who shake
a shadow which should be still, who
bend three blades of grass, who smudge
the moonlight. They are the creatures
who drag darkness with them, whom
you can’t quite see, who make
no sound. Yet all the time you know
not far away they are nailing you
to the flaming crosses of their eyes.
Identifying a Mythical Beast by Liz Potter
Should be an ancient Book of Beasts, with spine
Of threads and cracks, of anxious keeper’s frown,
Of faded spider writing setting down
All fabled creatures – folklore, legend, mine.
Not this, the brightness of the internet,
Of dragon onesies, cartoon unicorns
With chubby legs and multi-coloured horns.
Give up. You barely saw the beast. Forget.
But look! Slowly emerging from the shades,
With a strange text – Old English? Surely no?
The grainy blurry-focussed photos show
My magical creature. The picture fades,
And ‘Error’ fills the screen. Though I search on
The page has disappeared. The beast has gone.
putting the coelacanth to
bed by Barry Tench
by the time you walked in salty
and wet, I had put the coelacanth
to bed looked deep
into those missing eyes
and underbite jaw, tucked him in
iridescent in blue spotty pyjamas
he’d gone out like a lamp
he will soon drift off to dark caves
his lobe fins resting on the sand pillow
of the ocean bed, his small mouth
open wide, unhinged at the back
of his skull, feeding on our fear of
Extinction by Ruth Stacey
Mermaids drown in fresh water,
the lack of brine causing them
to gum apart like paper dolls.
Yet the fish women persist
through the brackish waters,
searching for the hot-blooded
ape-men who walk on land.
Mermaids yearn for dry,
So unlike solitary spawning,
watched but not touched
by stagnant, dank mermen.
Fresh water is soft when
compared to harsh salt.
It is caressing the pearly
skinned, persuading them
to ignore the bitter sting.
the elegant fingers flare,
Silver tails softly dissolve.
Billows of carefully
combed hair drifts away.
Sighing scales float back
to the sea, returning
to the mermen
who see them and know
they are finished.
Animal Bodies by Rachel Burns
You are a dinosaur of a bird
without the need of flight
long windpipe, pectoral muscle
sternum bone, tibiotarsus bone
metatarsal bone, long long legs
the elastic ligaments coil
like giant springs as you run and leap
across the dry hot savannas.
The epiphyseal plate
allows growth after birth
the long bones extend
and will mature and grow
but more often than not
you will be led to the slaughter
people will give thanks
hands cupped in prayer
thanking God for roasted flesh
heads bowed over white linen cloth.
An elephant has incredibly wide feet
toe and foot bones are raised sharply
and rest on cushioned soles
the heavy weight of the body
is evenly spread so that it barely
leaves a footprint
and hardly makes a sound.
On Falling Asleep Looking at the Mappa Mundi by Meg Cox
Dreaming and enchanted by
a flowery mead
I wander into the wood where singing birds lead.
Sweet blossoming trees are full of ripe red fruits,
seasonless flowers dot the roseate forest floor
and beguiling wild creatures
Bemused I follow a tinkling stream
sprinkling over mossy rocks and in a gleam
of sunshine I sit beside it. I can see the sky
and hear the susurration of leaves.
In the water there’s something white reflected,
I’m captivated. Here’s a small nearly horse;
softer and more feline, pliant. A unicorn
leucous and elegant, head bowed and fey,
moves closer to me, smelling whiskery of warm hay,
lays his head on my denim-clad lap, and sighs.
There are damselflies.
He’s ensorcelled me. I stroke his soft nose and silky
curling mane and am fascinated by his milky
white, perfectly formed and tapering horn.
‘Do you know I’m not a virgin?’, I whisper in his ear.
‘That is well old fashioned’, he says, ‘even us old myths
and poets must learn to live in the modern world.’
The Trompe l’Oeil by Richard Westcott
A fantastic beast – or was
it a ploy
a trick to confuse us, the Trompe l’Oeil
seeking attention but somehow coy,
yet insistent too, the Trompe l’Oeil?
I’ve never seen him – not man nor boy –
yes definitely male, this Trompe l’Oeil.
He wants to be seen, bright as a buoy
displaying the wrong way, the Trompe l’Oeil
who inhabits a tower, with many a toy,
regarding himself. Stay where you are, Trompe l’Oeil –
beast of illusion, we do not enjoy
the prospect of seeing you, Trompe l’Oeil.
Pandafeche by Sharon Larkin
Your jaw slackens.The creature stirs, sends a digit
out to probe the depth of slumber, begins to smear
your limbs with a fast-set cast, to immobilise, rivet
you to the bed. It starts to squeeze. You cannot bear
the weight of the beast on your chest, cannot stir
yourself as it smothers you, intent on elimination,
whispers fear of death into your ear. You appear
to be asphyxiating beneath the crushing invasion
but somehow you manage to twitch a leg awake,
foil paralysis once more. You’ve won another fight,
dismiss it as a dream, a terror of the night, scoff
at tales of visitation. Meanwhile a shadow breaks
away, shrinks from you, slinks back into the night
to plot a time when you’ll not wake, not shake it off.